Author: Tim Higgins
Review Date: 5/17/2001

Pros: – Supports both USB and SNMP/Ethernet administration
– Shows wireless and Ethernet statistics
– No throughput hit with WEP enabled
– Performance vs. range seems more robust than average
Cons: – Only 40 bit WEP supported
– Unhelpful indicators
– Can’t attach “booster” antennas

Review Updates

1/22/02 — New firmware supports 128-bit WEP, wireless bridge functions, and DHCP client.

The Basics

 

Indicators:
  • Power

  • Wireless Link / Activity

  • Ethernet Link / Activity (on rear panel)

  • Ethernet Full / Half duplex (on rear panel)

Connectors:
  • One RJ45 10BaseT Ethernet

  • Power

  • One USB Type B (square) Console

Comes with:
  • printed Quick Installation guide

  • Resource CD

  • 10 foot UTP Normal cable

  • 5 foot USB cable

  • 100-120V Power supply

Chipset:
  • Intersil PRISM II
Other:
  • Two external non-removable dipole antennas

 

Introduction

NETGEAR recently joined the 802.11b wireless parade with an Access Point, PC Card, and PCI adapter.  This review focuses on the ME102 Access Point which seems to perform a little better than your average AP and doesn’t give you a throughput hit when you enable WEP encryption.

 

Setting up

The 102 supports both USB “console” and SNMP over Ethernet administration methods.  Both require the use of different Windows based programs, so if you’re using any other OS, you’re out of luck.  The NETGEAR spec sheets say that USB is supported on Win98, 2000 and Me, and that the SNMP utility is supported only on Win98 and Me.  I did my testing on good old Win98 and took a shot at the SNMP/Ethernet method first.

The good news is that the 102 seems to come with a default “real” IP of 192.168.0.5, so if your network runs on the 192.168.0.X subnet and you don’t have any conflicting clients, your setup should go relatively smoothly.  Note that the 102 does not act as a DHCP client.  Maybe NETGEAR has seen the problems that other AP’s have with feature and decided to take a different approach.  At any rate, I didn’t find that the lack of this capability hindered my setup.

Since my lab network uses a 192.168.3.X subnet, I had to use the arp -s method outlined, no…not in the Installation Guide poster, but in the Reference Guide supplied both in PDF and Word form on the Reference CD.

Tip: The arp -s instructions can be a little confusing if you haven’t done an arp before.  Don’t use quotes around the IP and MAC addresses and make sure you put a dash (-) between each pair of characters in the MAC address, i.e. 00AB23334544 must be entered as 00-AB-23-33-45-44.

Tip: If your PC is not on the 192.168.0.X subnet and you click on the Configure button, you’ll get a confusing message about moving to the same domain.  The program’s trying to tell you to match up your computer and the 102’s subnets.

The AP’s default settings are Channel 6, ESSID of “Wireless” and Encryption off. The screenshots below (click on ’em for a closer look) show a few of the basic controls.

You should leave most of the settings in Operational Setting tab alone, except possibly the Preamble Type. See this page for more info.

If you choose to go the USB route for your setup, you get the one window shown below, and no network statistics monitoring.

My experience with the USB application was a little funky.  Windows never recognized the device or asked for the drivers no matter how many times or how I plugged the 102 in.  But when I installed and ran the program, it looked like it talked to the 102 just fine.  Smarter than I am, I guess!

By the way, the Reference Manual is clearly written and clearly defines each of the wireless settings and in most cases gives further explanation and tells you how to use it.  I would have liked to see the printed Installation Guide include info on setting up using the SNMP/Ethernet method, though.  Heck, why not just supply the Reference Manual in printed form?

 

Encryption

The 102 supports 40 bit WEP encryption, and you can only set the four keys as 10 Hexadecimal characters each, since the “pass phrase” key method is not supported.

Tip: You need to set the Authentication Type to either “Open System” or “Both” and the Default Key to “None” to disable encryption.  Enable encryption by setting Authentication Type to “Shared Key” and the Default Key to your desired key.  If you need other help with encryption, see this page.

Unlike other consumer-grade APs, you won’t get a performance hit by enabling WEP, as you’ll see in the Performance section below.

 

Monitoring, Access Control, & Other features

The 102’s SNMP program provides simple Ethernet and Wireless network statistics, but you can’t save them and you can clear them only by power cycling the unit.

  

No other monitoring capabilities are provided in either the SNMP or USB admin programs, so you can’t see:

  • how many clients are using the network

  • the MAC or IP address of clients

  • the state (active, roaming, etc.) of clients

The 102’s LED indicators aren’t much help in telling you what’s going on since the Wireless indicator on the front panel just glows steadily no matter what’s happening on the wireless network.  The Ethernet Link/Activity LED does properly indicate what’s going on, but it’s on the rear panel of the 102, so you can’t easily see it.

You also can’t control access to the wireless network by blocking/allowing MAC addresses, and can’t do any packet filtering to control the services that users can access.

On a positive note, the 102 supports client roaming, so you can use it in larger, multiple AP networks.

 

Performance

I used netIQ’s free QCheck utility to check the 102’s wireless performance.  Tests were done using an NETGEAR MA401 PC card (reviewed here) as the wireless client, and an Ethernet-connected Windows PC as the other LAN client.  Here are the results:

 

Summary

Although somewhat late to the 802.11b market, NETGEAR looks like they’ve chosen a decent set of products to do battle with.  The ME102 sets up relatively easily and seems to be a robust performer.  Although it’s priced along with most of the competitive pack, its ability to maintain its throughput with WEP enabled gives it a little bit of an edge.  Add 128 bit WEP and more aggressive pricing, and NETGEAR could make up for lost time in the fast moving 802.11b market!